The last time the Philadelphia Eagles had an above-average linebacker group, they won the Super Bowl.
Eric Wilson and Alex Singleton aren't exactly at the measure of Jordan Hicks and Mychal Kendricks, but the duo are showcasing a level of play the Eagles haven't seen from their linebackers in years. The first of the two-day joint practices with the New England Patriots was a strong indicator of the potential of those two in Jonathan Gannon's defense.
Wilson recorded an interception in the end zone of the team session against Cam Newton, part of a subpar day for the Patriots quarterback. Javon Hargrave was able to get pressure on Newton, forcing him to get rid of the ball where Wilson was awaiting the pass. Wilson also broke up a Newton pass in the end zone, taking another touchdown off the board for New England.
Already a strong linebacker in pass coverage, Wilson is expected to be the starting MIKE linebacker in Philadelphia. He fits the qualifications Gannon is seeking in a three-down linebacker.
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"Being where they are supposed to be, that's the first thing I think," Gannon said at the conclusion of Monday's Eagles camp practice. "Processing very quickly because it happens fast, those spots. You know, the closer you are to the ball, the less reaction time you have, so those guys are kind of that second line. So, there's not a lot of room for indecision with decisions that they are making.
"But I would think that processing and really a feel of, 'Hey, this is your coverage responsibility, here is the formation, here is what's going on in front of you, here is where you need to be or here is where you need to get on."
Alex Singleton also had a strong session against New England, almost intercepting Newton twice in 7-on-7 drills and nearly picking off a pass in the team session. Singleton just got off the reserve/COVID-19 list last week but hasn't missed a beat since returning.
"He's got a super-high motor, and he runs around and makes plays. And he processes very fast, like all our linebackers do," Gannon said. "They are processing at a pretty good level, I think, and we ask those guys – we put a lot on their plate in the run and pass game. He's doing a good job as far as, 'Hey, here is the call. Here is what you need to do. Here is the communication that needs to be said and then go play free.' And that's what you see him doing right now."
Wilson and Singleton are establishing themselves as the favorites to start at linebacker. Davion Taylor emerged in training camp and Shaun Bradley had a strong preseason opener against Pittsburgh. Genard Avery is establishing himself in a new role as a blitzing linebacker, giving the Eagles depth at the position they haven't seen in years -- a group that is just getting better under Gannon.
The times are changing in Philadelphia, and for the better.